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Circumcision as Mutilation

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By Diana Hsieh from NoodleFood,cross-posted by MetaBlog

I've been catching up on my listening of Dr. Peikoff's excellent podcasts (available via iTunes) over the past few weeks. I have been enjoying them immensely -- although I definitely prefer his solo podcasts to the group discussions. The questions have become increasingly interesting, and his answers are often a bit surprising. I don't always agree with him fully, and I find our minor disagreements of great interest. All in all, I think these podcasts are a fantastic contribution our understanding of Objectivism -- particularly its application to the ordinary problems of daily life. So if you're not listening to them, you're missing out!

A few weeks ago, my ears perked up in his discussion of circumcision in Podcast #34. I am adamantly opposed to that practice -- on the grounds that it inhibits a man's natural potential for sexual pleasure. Admittedly, I was a bit petrified to hear what Dr. Peikoff might say. (What if he didn't think it was a big deal?!? Yikes!) But I need not have worried: he knows his stuff. Here's the transcription, courtesy of Flibby:

Question: Medical issues aside, what right does a parent have to alter a child's body? On one end of the spectrum, I could imagine a parent wanting to remove an abnormal but benign growth, say, a sixth, non-functioning finger. On the other end of the spectrum is circumcision, which I regard as mutilation.:

Peikoff: By the way, I agree with that 100 percent. There can be no legitimate reason for anyone to circumcise a boy. It's either primitive religion, abject conformity, or the evil of destructiveness. Now this question goes on.

Question: Aside from from those two extremes of the sixth finger and circumcision, somewhere in the middle of the spectrum are things like ear-piercing on which I am undecided.

Peikoff: Now, my view would be this: If there is no violation of the biologically normal, then a parent may make changes. He may make changes in that which is abnormal or that which is required by the health. For instance, I do not think parents should have the right to withhold blood in the case of a child who is going to sicken and die for lack of a transfusion. That should be absolutely mandatory on similar grounds on what I said on the further question. But aside from this, I think anything else that would be permanent should be left to the child once he's 18, forbidden by the parent until he's 18. For instance, even piercing ears to wear earrings, piercing the tongue, having indelible tattoos -- all of that I think should be prohibited by a parent and impermissible to a parent to do when the child is their ward and doesn't know well enough what to do.

So that's a pretty old-fashioned view but that's definitely my view.

I was allowed to get my ears pierced after I graduated from 8th grade. That seemed way too late to me at the time, but in retrospect, I'm glad that I was mature enough to make my own decision and to care for the wound as required. (A friend of mine who got her ears pierced some years before me was so grossed out that she couldn't touch them.) I don't think that was problematic -- but only because ear piecing is such a small thing, without any negative implications for a girl's life. I wouldn't say the same about a tattoo, piercing another area of the body, or a boy piercing his ears. I think those should be forbidden by the parents while their child is still a child.

What say you?BBptnBxNSdA520320904

Cross-posted from Metablog

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I agree 100%

This has actually been a big issue for me. It amazes me how many ways people can come up with justifications for this barbaric act, and fail to understand such a simple concept as the individual's not to have his body violated.

Luckily, I've been able to change a few minds over the years, and there are several intact children running around now because I was able to educate their parents. :dough:

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While I completely agree that parents should not be allowed to change the bodies of their children while the parents are still gaurdians, I have to disagree with the idea that circumcision is mutilation. Some people just prefer to be circumscised. I am very glad to admit that I myself am, and I see nothing wrong with that.

I do believe that the choice to circumcise should be left up to the children when they turn 18. Otherwise it is like the parent is making a rather important decision for that child by force. The parent has no moral right to circumcise thier child at birth, but the child has every right to choose circumcision once he turns 18.

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While I completely agree that parents should not be allowed to change the bodies of their children while the parents are still gaurdians, I have to disagree with the idea that circumcision is mutilation. Some people just prefer to be circumscised. I am very glad to admit that I myself am, and I see nothing wrong with that.

I do believe that the choice to circumcise should be left up to the children when they turn 18. Otherwise it is like the parent is making a rather important decision for that child by force. The parent has no moral right to circumcise thier child at birth, but the child has every right to choose circumcision once he turns 18.

I have no big problem with not having my foreskin, mostly because I don't know what it's like to have one. But it doesn't make anything less than mutilation of the genitals. I hope no religious cult ever says that we don't "need" something else on our privates.

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While I completely agree that parents should not be allowed to change the bodies of their children while the parents are still gaurdians, I have to disagree with the idea that circumcision is mutilation. Some people just prefer to be circumscised. I am very glad to admit that I myself am, and I see nothing wrong with that.

I do believe that the choice to circumcise should be left up to the children when they turn 18. Otherwise it is like the parent is making a rather important decision for that child by force. The parent has no moral right to circumcise thier child at birth, but the child has every right to choose circumcision once he turns 18.

Well, for one thing, the fact that some people prefer being circumcised means nothing by itself. There are probably also some people who prefer to be blind, but that is not an argument in favor of making people blind. Arguably, being blind is a more serious handicap than being circumcised, but the point remains that it is still a non-trivial modification of someone's body. It DOES affect their ability to receive pleasure from sexual acts. If that doesn't matter to you, so be it. But you cannot make that decision for anyone else. Besides, I seriously doubt any child is going to hate their parents for not circumcising them when they were young. I can definitely see how the reverse can negatively impact a relationship later on, because it IS a pretty major violation of your body and I would be mad as hell at someone who did that to me before I was cognitive of it.

Another fun argument you sometimes hear is that if you don't circumcise a baby, then later on it'll hurt more so they can't do it (or it'd be more difficult). As if that's a justification for anything. Sure, sometimes circumcision is necessary; my little brother's foreskin was so small that it would have caused problems for him at a later age, so they got rid of it when he was 2 or something. But I am pretty sure in most cases it is not done for a serious medical reason.

(The worst thing is that in some places they don't even ask you; they just assume you want the child circumcised. I'd toss that doctor out of a window =P)

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I agree, except on the part where 18 is the "magic" number. Awareness and responsibility are important, not the date of birth.

By the way: My foreskin was the way nature intended until around my 18th or 19th birthday, when I had most of it removed due to a light case of phimosis. No feelings of loss or regret.

Edited by Randroid
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I agree, except on the part where 18 is the "magic" number. Awareness and responsibility are important, not the date of birth.

By the way: My foreskin was the way nature intended until around my 18th or 19th birthday, when I had most of it removed due to a light case of phimosis. No feelings of loss or regret.

18 is the magic number because there has to be some number set for adulthood, since case-by-case would be impossible.

Maybe you have no regret because your foreskin had been a hindrance to your life. Like Maarten, I would have been mad as hell and would never do it now. I'm guessing most men would not choose to cut open their penises as adults, for no good reason at all.

From what I've read, sex lives aren't greatly affected by foreskin or a lack thereof. Some people claim to like the "look" of a penis without the skin, but all of them have dark scarred rings as a result, and that preference is probably culturally induced.

Obviously it is mutilation, textbook case. I agree with Peikoff's analysis of the reasons it is done, and the MAJOR reason I see against circumcision is possible mutilation of more than just the foreskin. Why, why, why why risk that?

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18 is the magic number because there has to be some number set for adulthood, since case-by-case would be impossible.

Like it would be impossible to have roads without the government building them? :P

Maybe you have no regret because your foreskin had been a hindrance to your life. Like Maarten, I would have been mad as hell and would never do it now. I'm guessing most men would not choose to cut open their penises as adults, for no good reason at all.

It wasn't much of a hindrance. The surgery was more of a precaution. But that's not the point. I didn't intend that piece of TMI to be in favor or opposition of any point in the circumcision debate. I just wanted to post some testimony from a guy who has experienced sexual pleasure with and without foreskin; to dispel the (in my experience) myth that circumcision is somehow detrimental to a man's sexual pleasure. That does not mean that I'm in favor of indiscriminate circumcision at birth.

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... I just wanted to post some testimony from a guy who has experienced sexual pleasure with and without foreskin; to dispel the (in my experience) myth that circumcision is somehow detrimental to a man's sexual pleasure. ...

Thank you, Randroid, for providing us with your testimony and personal experience. I sincerely appreciate the information.

An article on About.com summarizing several studies evidences the same thing:

http://sexuality.about.com/od/malesexualhe...ircumcised2.htm

Edited by Old Toad
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By Diana Hsieh from NoodleFood,cross-posted by MetaBlog

... I am adamantly opposed to [circumcision] -- on the grounds that it inhibits a man's natural potential for sexual pleasure. Admittedly, I was a bit petrified to hear what Dr. Peikoff might say. (What if he didn't think it was a big deal?!? Yikes!) But I need not have worried: he knows his stuff. ...

Taking Randroid’s personal testimony and other published data into account, it appears that this ground is factually mistaken. Also, it does not appear from the cited transcript of Dr. Peikoff’s podcast that he necessarily agrees with this ground for opposing circumcision. His standard is: “the biologically normal.”

Edited by Old Toad
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"Biologically normal" seems a pretty dubious standard to me. What if there was a heart surgery you could give men that would eliminate the possibility of high blood pressure or some other heart problem.

Would it somehow be immoral to prolong the life of your children because it wouldn't be "normal"?

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It didn't allow me to edit it, so can someone remove the earlier post? Thanks!

Taking Randroid’s personal testimony and other published data into account, it appears that this ground is factually mistaken. Also, it does not appear from the cited transcript of Dr. Peikoff’s podcast that he necessarily agrees with this ground for opposing circumcision. His standard is: “the biologically normal.”

I did find a published study about this where they measured how sensitive various parts of the penis were in circumcised vs uncircumcised males, and there was a pretty major difference. For one thing, the foreskin (and other areas that are not present in people who are circumcised) were the most sensitive part of the penis for people who still had it. Furthermore, all other parts of the penis were less sensitive in circumcised people.

They measured this with small electric shocks (I believe, it was a while ago that I read it), and looked at the threshold of what was required before a person felt the shock. I will see if I can find the article, because I am not sure whether I can assess if the methodology was good or not. It is very difficult to measure something like this objectively, but it was by far the most convincing study I've seen about it. Asking people about whether or not it feels different when they're having sex is much less accurate in my view.

Let me try and find it and I will link to it later.

*edit* Abstract of Circumcision paper

If anyone can access the journal, please go through it and see for yourself if it is convincing or not. There are a lot of contradicting studies on this, so it all comes down to methods. I do think they make a good case for it, though.

Full Paper pdf

But to quote the abstract:

SUBJECTS AND METHODS

Adult male volunteers with no history of penile pathology or diabetes were evaluated with a Semmes-Weinstein monofilament touch-test to map the fine-touch pressure thresholds of the penis. Circumcised and uncircumcised men were compared using mixed models for repeated data, controlling for age, type of underwear worn, time since last ejaculation, ethnicity, country of birth, and level of education.

RESULTS

The glans of the uncircumcised men had significantly lower mean (sem) pressure thresholds than that of the circumcised men, at 0.161 (0.078) g (P = 0.040) when controlled for age, location of measurement, type of underwear worn, and ethnicity. There were significant differences in pressure thresholds by location on the penis (P < 0.001). The most sensitive location on the circumcised penis was the circumcision scar on the ventral surface. Five locations on the uncircumcised penis that are routinely removed at circumcision had lower pressure thresholds than the ventral scar of the circumcised penis.

CONCLUSIONS

The glans of the circumcised penis is less sensitive to fine touch than the glans of the uncircumcised penis. The transitional region from the external to the internal prepuce is the most sensitive region of the uncircumcised penis and more sensitive than the most sensitive region of the circumcised penis. Circumcision ablates the most sensitive parts of the penis.

They had 68 non-circumcised people and 91 circumcised people in the study, and their p values are pretty good, so as far as I can tell it's a sound study. Anyway, enjoy if you want to look further into this :)

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Speaking in regard to my claim that "I am adamantly opposed to [circumcision] -- on the grounds that it inhibits a man's natural potential for sexual pleasure." Old Toad replied:

Taking Randroid’s personal testimony and other published data into account, it appears that this ground is factually mistaken.

Wow, that's a bit hasty: one anecdote and a web page does not constitute proof.

I've heard more than a few wholly opposite reports from men who were circumcised as adults: these men report that the procedure profoundly affected their enjoyment of sex. (Due to variation in the form of the uncircumcised penis, it wouldn't surprise me if some men experienced a major difference, others a minor difference, and still others no difference.)

Plus, I have some personal acquaintance with circumcised versus uncircumcised penises -- and the difference was substantial. Some amazing things can be done with an uncircumcised penis.

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...

They measured this with small electric shocks ... Asking people about whether or not it feels different when they're having sex is much less accurate in my view.

...

... There are a lot of contradicting studies on this, so it all comes down to methods. ...

Interesting, Maarten, but I am not convinced that sensitivity to small electric shocks is the same thing as measuring whether or not "it feels different when having sex." The nature and scale of the physical sensations of sex may not be particularly related to the minute sensitivity differences to small electric shocks. At least for me, "sex" is a complex emotional and sensory experience of a special kind, not a set of isolated, small electric shocks applied with metal probes. :)

My science is rusty and I never got much into statistics, but seems to me that asking thousands of people about "it" and getting "it doesn't feel any different" would be a reasonably objective way to determine that "it doesn't feel any different."

Maybe a study should be made using a method using some kind of brain response meter? Perhaps that would make be a more direct, objectively measurable determination of any difference?

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Wow, that's a bit hasty: one anecdote and a web page [summarizing studies] does not constitute proof.

It is more evidence and of better quality than:

I've heard more than a few wholly opposite reports from men ...

Besides, the positive factual assertion was yours. The weight of the evidence of studies summarized on one web page does not support it, even taking into account Randroid's anecdotal testimony and giving fair credit what you have anecdotally heard from more than a few other men. If you have some more evidence to offer, like Maarten, that might help.

Respectfully, I think Peikoff's standard was on principle, and it would apply regardless of whether circumcision made sex worse, no different, or even better.

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Besides, the positive factual assertion was yours. The weight of the evidence of studies summarized on one web page does not support it, even taking into account Randroid's anecdotal testimony and giving fair credit what you have anecdotally heard from more than a few other men. If you have some more evidence to offer, like Maarten, that might help.

Well, I'm not really interested in writing up graphic descriptions of the differences between the structure and workings of a circumcised versus uncircumcised penis based on my own personal experiences for all the world to see. I know what I know, and I've heard reliable reports. I'd be happy to discuss those with anyone I know in person. Not everything is appropriate to discuss with a bunch of anonymous strangers on a public forum. I'm not interested in exposing details of my sexual history to anyone and everyone, nor encouraging crazy stalkers to come knocking on my door.

If you think I'm wrong, that's fine. I'm well aware that I offered no proof of my view in my original post. I'm simply objecting to your claim that that one person's web site plus a single anecdote constitutes proof that circumcision has no impact on a man's pleasure in sex. It doesn't.

Respectfully, I think Peikoff's standard was on principle, and it would apply regardless of whether circumcision made sex worse, no different, or even better.

And where did I ever suggest that Dr. Peikoff's reason concerned the adult man's sexual pleasure? I didn't: I was just happy that he adamantly opposed it -- and did so on perfectly legitimate grounds. That being said, I don't think that he would use language like "primitive religion, abject conformity, or the evil of destructiveness" to a procedure that made no difference to the person. He certainly doesn't suggest the same about piercing a young girl's ears, for example. About that, he just said that he was "old fashioned."

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I've been wondering about this issue because I will have to make a stand regarding my own children in a few years. Some thoughts:

I have heard that circumcision reduces the possibility of infection and the spread of STDs. Is there any truth to this?

I was circumcised when I was 10, and not only was the wound painful, but I was out of action for a few weeks. It's much more convenient for a baby to go through than an adult.

I've heard that people with uncircumcised penises must wash behind their foreskin regularly to prevent infection. Is this true?

[Dr Peikoff's] standard is: “the biologically normal.”

While we should oppose mutilation without justification, we can't claim that the natural human body is ideal for our lives. Our bodies were not designed for civilized life, and many common medical problems arise from this fact. Two obvious facts that evolution did not take into account is that we wear underwear and live in much bigger (and hence infectious) societies than we evolved to do.

I think that parents should make medical decisions for their children in any case when the child will be materially harmed if they wait until the child is an adult for said decision. If genetically enhanced babies are possible tomorrow, we shouldn't condemn such an enhancement on the grounds that the future adult might not approve. In any case, I suspect that by the time my child-to-be is an adult, he'll be able to get his foreskin back if he wishes.

Plus, I have some personal acquaintance with circumcised versus uncircumcised penises -- and the difference was substantial. Some amazing things can be done with an uncircumcised penis.

I don't mean to pry into your privacy, but I would like to know what I am missing out on. If it's a substantial difference, I'm sure there are other accounts online.

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Well, I'm not really interested in writing up graphic descriptions ...

I understand completely. I did not ask you to write up any personal or graphic descriptions, and I am not really interested in reading that, either.

On this type of issue, I think studies are better evidence than anecdotal evidence. Randroid's testimony from personal experience prompted me to look for more scientific discussion and evidence.

I'm simply objecting to your claim that that one person's web site plus a single anecdote constitutes proof that circumcision has no impact on a man's pleasure in sex. It doesn't.

Again, this is not my claim or proof, and I do not appreciate you putting words in my mouth. I wrote that your positive, factual assertion appears to be mistaken, as in not supported by the evidence of studies summarized and cited on one webpage. Further, contrary to your weak effort to discredit it as being just "one person's web site," the web page appears to be a rather credible effort to make an unbiased summary of several studies.

It may be that circumcision does have an impact on sexual pleasure, and it would not surprise me if it did. This is not sufficient to make me believe there is one.

In your opening post, you wrote: "What say you?" This is what I say. If you think I'm wrong and don't want to discuss further, that's fine.

Edited by Old Toad
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Asking people about whether or not it feels different when they're having sex is much less accurate in my view.
I think the opposite of this. It may be true that foreskin has a (marginally) higher sensitivity than the rest of the penis when you shock it or prick it, but what difference does that make to anyone outside of a sexual context? During sex, foreskin is usually pulled back so that an uncircumcised penis looks and works more or less like a circumcised one anyway. So, the difference comes mostly in personal masturbatory technique, which is developed depending on foreskin or not anyway. From my experience, there is no real benefit in sexual feeling to having foreskin.

Some amazing things can be done with an uncircumcised penis.
I don't mean to pry into your privacy, but I would like to know what I am missing out on. If it's a substantial difference, I'm sure there are other accounts online.
I am unaware of these "amazing things," personally. From what I know, at best a circumcised penis does not require lube when masturbating, while some circumcised penises do, but that is not even set in stone, especially since some penises are circumcised tighter than others.

I have heard that circumcision reduces the possibility of infection and the spread of STDs. Is there any truth to this? [...]

I've heard that people with uncircumcised penises must wash behind their foreskin regularly to prevent infection. Is this true?

Your first question is easily Googleable (I think I remember there being a small disputable difference). As for your second, though, it's false. Doctors tell parents to get their children to pull their foreskin back regularly in the bath to help its (usually) natural tendency to stretch on its own. I remember my foreskin being tight as a young child, but not painful. Besides that, however, shower time as a teen and adult is just as regular as anyone else. No mysterious infections have ever happened to me, and I just clean with as much thought as I imagine the next guy does. Edited by JASKN
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Old Toad: My apologies if I misrepresented what you said. My general position remains as is: I know the major difference in the penis that circumcision can make from my own experience. The web site of one person (even if seemingly fair) and a single anecdote is not a reasonable basis for any kind of conclusion -- and it's certainly not grounds for me to doubt what I've seen with my own eyes.

GreedyCapitalist: I cannot point you to any online sources, as I haven't read them. You can Google for yourself, I suppose. As for hygiene, it's not a problem, so long as a man washes himself like he ought. As for STDs, how about teaching your son to practice sexual discretion? Alternatively, if you choose to accept that health-based argument, you should be consistent: you should cut off the breasts of any girls you have, to make sure that they don't get breast cancer. (Statistically, breast cancer is a much greater risk than STDs: boobs are dangerous!) That would be monstrous, but the principle is the same. As for thinking that medical science will allow the foreskin to grow back by the time a newborn son is of age, that's nothing but fantasy -- particularly in face of the ongoing attempts to destroy medicine via universal health care.

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Many years ago, this came up before my daughter was even born and we were planning to have a child, and it was just one of many agreements that my ex-wife had made in regards to my daughter: Not to pierce her ears. But later after she was born, she changed her mind, just like with the many other agreements, and my ex-wife wanted to have it done, because she would not only look cute but that every girl wants their ears pierced. THAT was her reasoning. I myself had several piercings in my life (lip, 12g frenum, 0g tongue) but they were all done by choice and I thought that my daughter should decide if she wants her ears pierced or not when she's older, and so I fought for her, fought to have my ex-wife uphold her agreements since her reasoning was not argued well enough to merit an official changing of our agreement. But just around that time, there were way more serious agreements that were being broken in regards to my daughter and so I was divorcing her over it, and to make a long tragic story short, within three weeks not only did she have her (hold on, it's hard for me to say this while remaining calm...) baptized, but also both ears were pierced, and she wasn't even a year old at the time.

But anyways, thanks for posting this thread. I actually read an article yesterday about a local woman in my area who pierced her kittens ears and necks, and sold them online as "gothic kittens" and people are all over that one (like Humane Officers), but why aren't they all over parent(s) piercing the ears of a baby or child, an actual human being, who does have rights? This is the article.

Edited by intellectualammo
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I think the opposite of this. It may be true that foreskin has a (marginally) higher sensitivity than the rest of the penis when you shock it or prick it, but what difference does that make to anyone outside of a sexual context? During sex, foreskin is usually pulled back so that an uncircumcised penis looks and works more or less like a circumcised one anyway. So, the difference comes mostly in personal masturbatory technique, which is developed depending on foreskin or not anyway. From my experience, there is no real benefit in sexual feeling to having foreskin.

I am unaware of these "amazing things," personally. From what I know, at best a circumcised penis does not require lube when masturbating, while some circumcised penises do, but that is not even set in stone, especially since some penises are circumcised tighter than others.

I don't think that's true. For one thing, sex is much more than just traditional intercourse, and I would argue that having more, and more sensitive, areas to stimulate is a good thing for anyone. The fact that sex is also an emotional and spiritual act doesn't have anything to do with that; we're just looking at the physical side of it, and I think that physically speaking it's a good thing for your genitals to be more sensitive (i.e. to have more nerve endings you can stimulate)

As for during sex: without wanting to get too graphic here, it is my experience that the foreskin is continually moving because of the friction, and that adds considerably to the pleasure. It does not just stay pulled backwards in most cases, as far as I can tell, and I think it adds another dimension to the physical experience of that act that you simply wouldn't have otherwise. I think the foreskin also helps trap a woman's fluids inside her so it helps keep everything more lubricated, which I think can also make sex better (I read that somewhere, but I don't have a reference, sorries)

And yeah, as for those hygienic reasons: It basically comes down to being able to wash yourself. It really is not that difficult to keep it clean, and even when you temporarily don't have access to washing facilities or whatever for a few days it doesn't spontaneously fall off. It may once have made sense to circumcise boys when our ancestors lived in the desert (I can imagine that sand under your foreskin is very, very painful =P), but I just don't see why anyone would find that a compelling reason nowadays. It basically just comes down to lazy parenting in my opinion, where they just don't want to bother reminding the child to wash it (or wash it for them when they're younger).

But yes, maybe for some people sex is more enjoyable if there's somewhat less sensation (because it can be easier to control orgasms and such things), but it should definitely be up to them. I personally think there are enough ways to circumvent that issue that it's really not a very good reason to alter my privates, but yeah =P It's not right to make that decision for someone else.

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